Physics lecture series begins with Einstein | AspenTimes.com

Physics lecture series begins with Einstein

Catherine FoulkrodSpecial to The Aspen Times

When you drop an egg, it breaks.You can film it, play it back in reverse and watch the egg go from a splattered yolk and broken shell back into a perfectly whole and contained oval. But of course that reverse order never happens in real life. Why?”It has to do with the initial condition of the universe,” said James B. Hartle, a physicist for the past 39 years at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Hartle is doing frontier research in quantum cosmology, a field that attempts to apply quantum theory to the entire universe. More specifically, the field attempts to study the effect of quantum mechanics on the earliest moments of the universe.Hartle will be giving a lecture titled “Einstein’s Vision and the Quantum Universe” at 6:30 p.m. today at Paepcke Auditorium as part of the Aspen Center for Physics Heinz R. Pagels Public Lecture Series. The lecture series, which will feature five lectures between June 29 and August 24, is designed for a general audience and aims to bring cutting-edge research topics, which may not yet be published, to the public. According to Hartle, the initial condition of the universe, some 13.7 billion years ago, was highly ordered and more uniform than it is today. Entropy, or disorder, has increased over time.In other words, “We’re all going downhill together,” said Hartle, though he immediately said that’s not a cynical view of things and increasing entropy is a gradual process.Hartle, who has been coming to the Aspen Center for Physics since the late ’60s, describes the center as “a useful place to exchange ideas.” He plans to focus this year’s lecture on the tensions between classic theories of gravity and quantum mechanics. Large-scale systems such as the universe are typically understood through classical laws, such as Einstein’s theory of general relativity, which describes the evolution of the universe from its origins to the present day. However, quantum mechanics, which deals with physical processes that occur on very small scales “fundamentally undermines” general relativity, Hartle said. “The basic vision of the universe has changed since [quantum theory began to mature] in 1926.”The challenge, then, is how to combine the two visions. A key component to this problem that is yet to be resolved is the search for a fundamental theory of gravity. Another big question in quantum cosmology is “what is the wave function of the universe?” Hartle said. On his UCSB website – http://www.physics.ucsb.edu/~hartle/ – Hartle also further explains his research by writing. “A central problem in modern cosmology is to find a simple and compelling theory of the initial condition of the universe that will predict testable correlations among observations today.”Admission to the lectures is free, and the speakers are available for discussion after their presentations.For additional information on the Aspen Center for Physics and its summer lectures, dialogues and seminars, call 925-2585 or visit http://www.aspenphys.org.Catherine Foulkrod’s e-mail is cfoulkrod@aspentimes.com